Welcome to the PeterMaher.org

Peter is involved in the following works and projects

Consultant Pastoral Supervisor and Supervisor Trainer.
Supervisor for people in ministry and faith based organisations.
Australasian Association of Supervision (AAOS) Transforming Practices Inc and Association of Pastoral Supervision and Education United Kingdom (APSE-UK)

Rachel's Vineyard Ministries Sydney

Post abortion ministry Peter is Chair

The Swag

National Council of Priests Quarterly Magazine. Editor

Ministries with LGBTI people
RCiA Rainbow Catholics InterAgency.
Equal Voices

PALMS Australia
Volunteers abroad and in Australian indigenous communities

UTS Human Research Ethnics Committee

Address: 30 63-69 Bonar St Arncliffe 2205
Phone 61 (02) 9051 1485
Mobile (61) 0439 460 779
Email: petermaher [at] hotmail.com
ABN: 817 379 67337

Sunday, September 9, 2012

No more secrets
 A homily for Child Protection Sunday at St Joseph’s Newtown Sept 9, 2012

I almost never read a homily but I want to speak on a topic that requires more than my normal confidence to preach without notes.

This is child protection week and I want to say something as a response to the tragedy of the destruction of people’s lives through the sexual abuse, especially of the young, by people representing the church.

I have found this particularly challenging.  Why?  Well priests are seen by society, and indeed by many Catholics, as the problem or a potential danger in this regard and thus the least qualified to speak. I have a real fear of making matters worse.

Priests are supposed to be leaders; spiritual guides and prophets.  I feel like the prophets of old when they claim not to know how to speak.  I am called to proclaim the truth and be prophetic in the light of injustice and oppression but on this occasion I only know that not to speak is no longer an option.  And yet to say something as if I know what to say might just offend further.  My initial response is to say I don’t know what to say or how to say it. 

In thinking about this, I have come to see that as a priest, I am part of the institutionalised structure in which clerical abuse has been able to live and grow unstopped even by those trying to help.  I have to come to realise that the culture of clericalism is responsible for the ongoing tragedy that has left the vulnerable unprotected and unhealed by a leadership too willing to be hoodwinked by the doctrine of a priesthood that places priests above other human beings and what they call “the good of the church” above destruction of lives.  I have come to see that the need to maintain power and control left the vulnerable without a voice – unsupported by the very people who claim gospel authority.  For this - I am sorry.

I have recently had to admit to myself that my failure to speak clearly about this tragic injustice has been because I am confused about what to say and how to say it.  I am somehow caught in the system and I am afraid I will sound phoney and defensive - adding to the problem rather than advancing the healing. It is difficult and confusing – but this is no excuse to stay silent.

Church spokespeople have all too often tried to make sense of the role of the church and its representatives in this crisis only to appear defensive and thus insult those who have been abused because the church and its “good name” remain privileged in the discourse rather than allowing the pain and despair of the victims to be heard and respected and honoured, as it must be, if justice is to be done.  If there is to be healing we must be clear that honesty and justice must come first.  South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions may not be perfect but they have succeeded far beyond the church’s efforts which many victims see as defensive and in the church’s interests first. This is one thing that must change.

What is missing for many victims abused in the church is any form of dialogue that might privilege the victim’s stories.  Yet this is the first step in healing and reconciliation. Why is this?  I think it is because church representatives are still trying to address this tragic abuse from a position of power – that is to say, maintaining its distance from the problem by the insistence on institutional innocence.  I think it’s time to be more real and recognise that it is primarily an institutional failure: a failure to recognise that unfettered clerical power created a climate in which on-going abuse could go on unabated; a failure to recognise the victims plight; a failure to speak up on behalf of the victims and a failure to act in defence of the victim rather than the institution.  

In the light of this reality, I have been struggling to find an image that might facilitate a genuine dialogue with people so profoundly ignored and left to heal themselves.  I am working with the image of the wounded church offered by Adrian McInerney, Parish Priest of St Alipius parish in Ballarat East.  He recently wrote that we might reflect on the Pauline image of the church as the “body of Christ” and begin to accept that none of us is immune from the difficult malaise we are in.  We are in it together as a theological imperative and we need to accept that we are a wounded church – that is to say a wounded people.  Then he goes on to say we might find a way of acceptance, not in a passive or defeatist way, but in actively embracing the figure of Jesus who, “like the suffering servant of Isaiah, took our sins upon Himself.  The Passion of Jesus offers us a model of how we might act, for surely we will be stripped of our garments of pride and power and position” (Article to be published in The Swag, Summer 2012). 

And all this without trivialising the woundedness of the victims. Their space often seems to have been taken over by a communal outpouring of a shared grief and loss as if their the victim’s loss can somehow be subsumed into everyone else’s.  That shared space must now give way to privilege a space for the victims and their woundedness.  This must be always over and above the larger narrative of a communal woundedness. Our communal shame, our move toward humility must always be in service of the victims of abuse.

Taking on board this attitude might lead to a healthier dialogue.  This approach reminds us we are all complicit by our inaction, we are all involved by our being church and we are all responsible for creating a safe place for the vulnerable.

I recently spoke with a woman who found the touch of a work colleague uncomfortable. She said, “it’s not sexual abuse – I just don’t feel comfortable when he does that”.  I reminded her it was sexual abuse.  Maybe she did not feel in danger of being molested or sexually interfered with but it is sexual – every touch and word comes from who we are and we are sexual beings.  We are responsible for how we interact with others making sure our words and actions are not over-reaching into other’s personal space. This is especially true amongst the young and vulnerable – those who are unsure about themselves or who are still searching out the meaning of their identity in the world.  We are all responsible for this safety everywhere in the world, but especially in church settings where an offensive word or action may leave people whose space has been invaded turning away from themselves, the church and God.      

But if we are to privilege the victims, the last word must be that of the victims and so may I read a poem by a victim and survivor of clerical sexual abuse written for this weekend.

No More Secrets

No Hidden secrets: one, facelessly Breaking Silence
on 'wrong' touch (AND word/s).
About & for ALL Children of God especially young & vulnerable.
One, given just that much voice, saying otherwise
cannot now, know, offer or receive love.
One of us one of you. One abused. A call, "SPEAK OUT"....
loudly, NOW..... on " wrong touch  AND word/s ".
Proclaim, loudly right word & touch.
Can't express ? Love ? No time ? No energy ? No Value ?
No... voice ? Don't touch ? Too much 'risk' ? Can't touch,
too many broken pieces ! 
Too broken, now ?! Lifeless ?
This can be a time to notice continually, choices in words touch & Love.
Daring to care, enough. (Then, of the next " day of remembering ?)
For me, it is to now facelessly break-in to my own, silence.
This, although we have so frequently shared.
This year, season or week or simply this day
we can know closeness and love,
be active witnesses to it and bannish silencing & silence.
Silence, bullying & silencing, clearly the fertile ground for abuse.
Inappropriate touch or word
the sexualizing of unequal or professional / pastoral
or family or therapeutic relating or relationships.
Fertile ground for abuse to occur & grow.... into local culture/s.
Do we approach & question & put & name
Truth, Light & Love where shadows cannot, can NO LONGER, EXIST ?
OUR Love, light & voices, ( here, locally); precious,
to be known, seen, heard, and guarded. Love, touch, speech & closeness never to be hidden but proclaiming & loudly (?) Proclaiming.
& so, yes, loudly we ALL CAN cry out & yell,
naming ALL that does not seem or feel right or true or fair or loving.
NO MORE..... hidden. No more in secret.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A reflection on homophobic attacks towards Newtown Catholic Church’s Mass for Lesbian and Gay people. Written for Spirit Life In Marrickville Multifaith Roundtable Community Arts Project Exhibition August 24 and 25, 2012.
 An uncertain world
Gay Catholics in Newtown

Religion for all its poetry and pity
Can sometimes be a place of judgment and complicity
In the cool dark place where real lives struggle
And pray for more than just another haggle
Over words – shouted in market squares
Battles producing endless judgmental stares
Clouting fragile people with blunt exceptionalism
Rather than rainbow colours within the prism

At Newtown on a Friday night
Gay christians gather – not to fight
But in mutual support befriending
And with a quiet voice ascending
Seek hope for a world made anew
Everyone included no matter what the hue
When protested, critiqued by the certainty
Strangely out of touch with all reality

There is a spark breaking free
Hesitating, straining to see
A truth - what self is all about
Accompanied by some healthy doubt
About God and me and us and the world
From a starry mouth gently unfurled
A whisper gently claiming safe space
It is not a federal case
But a celebration of what is God-given
Finding confidence - not hidden

Peter Maher 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Newtown parish responds to video vilifying ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics

After last Sunday’s homily there has been some interest in the thoughts I expressed.  Far from judging and vilifying lesbians and gays, as we heard from Michael Voris in his video about the Newtown parish Friday night Mass, I suggested that hearing the stories of lesbian and gay Catholics and how that had influenced my reading in order to better pastorally care for all Catholics might offer a new way of seeing lesbian and gay Catholics as gift rather than “the other” for whom we might feel sorry.
What I learned from hearing these stories was that lesbian and gay Catholics are like all people trying to live their faith – they are searching for meaning and joy and authenticity in and through the Catholic community and the spiritual wisdom of the bible and church tradition. Catholics expect to find guidance and encouragement, as well as challenge, but  lesbian and gay Catholics find all too often that they are asked to deny their sexuality or, at best, to be invisible.
Theologians and spiritual writers are beginning to write from the perspective of the world in which we live and the life stories of lesbian and gay Catholics. If sexuality is a gift from God and if psychology and science are correct in finding that homosexuality is God-given, that is not chosen, then homosexuality must also be a gift from God.  What might this gift be?  Those doing theology with the insight of the stories of lesbian and gay Catholics and modern science suggest such areas as intimacy, friendship, faithful love and personal growth might be a gift to the church and indeed the world. 
Where traditional sexual ethics has dominated church teaching about heterosexual relationships and marriage; homosexuals have had to find the meaning for themselves of their God-given attraction and have made some astoundingly good gospel-based spiritual discoveries.  While heterosexual relationships are struggling in the current climate of distrust of church teaching; homosexual relationships, lived according to gospel principles of love, seem to be finding a beautiful expression.
But what of the scripture passages that seem so damning of homosexuality? Through scripture scholarship which emphasizes the meaning of the text in context, it seems that all the texts referring to homosexuality, and there are not many – indeed, none in the gospel, all refer to abusive sexual relationships.  In times when people did not identify as gay, as they do today, it is reasonable to infer that the texts referring to homosexuality refer to people being used and abused.  Scriptural texts do encourage intimate and caring relationships and these can often be found among lesbian and gay couples.
I don’t pretend we have found a path forward yet but there are many within the church exploring these ideas.  What we try to do here at St Joseph’s Newtown is to support, and walk with, lesbian and gay Catholics as they try to faithfully live their faith authentically.
Including the outsider is a common theme here at Newtown parish and so it is not so surprising that we might explore such a ministry.  Let’s hope the likes of Michael Voris, and his Opus Dei money, don’t destroy this emerging gift for the church.
Peter Maher, Parish priest, Newtown

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gay and Lesbian Catholics becoming equals at our Eucharistic tables - A book review

Setting the Table, Preparing Catholic Parishes to Welcome Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People and Their Families, James A. Schexnayder, 2011.
Reviewed by Peter Maher
Jim Schexnayder is a retired priest of the diocese of Oakland, California who has spent over 30 years ministering to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics. He is co-founder of The Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM) and is presently their resource director.
He has written this resource book for parishes seeking to find right attitudes, language, knowledge, strategies and skills to become sensitively inclusive of the many people who feel excluded by church language and practice around sexuality identity. He has enormous pastoral experience and reflection on experience to build real and achievable outcomes for parishes. Indeed they seem sometimes to be a little too simple and achievable.
As someone who has tried to do this in the inner city suburb of Newtown, I am well aware of the pain this ministry can cause in even the most gay-sensitive suburb in Sydney. Even when parishioners are on side, as they most certainly are in Newtown, the catholic protestors from outside the parish who harass catholics leaving the church on Friday nights has meant calling the police to ensure the safety of people attending the Mass. So Jim’s encouraging words and fine strategies are not without some cost to parishes trying to implement them.
That said, this is a fine and very readable book with a compassion that hides the pain of his personal journey. Schexnayder has managed to transform that pain into a very useful practical manual for parishes. This is a book that stays pastoral and positive, emphasizing the best pastoral elements of the church’s teaching, while not hesitating to challenge the church to do better with its language and practice.
On the CALGM website, Schexnayder says: “I wrote this new book to be a resource for parishes which would like to explore how their communities may become safe, supportive and healing places for people whose lives, faith, and spirituality have been challenged and enriched by their sexual identity and personal integration. Setting the table is creating a spiritual and communal environment for welcome, growth and participation.”
“This book attempts to consider the questions: who, why, and how. It offers resources from Scripture, Church teachings, human sciences, and effective diocesan and parish models of ministry. My hope is that this book will contribute to the core mission of each parish as it speaks the good news of Jesus Christ and the universal and surprising love of our God for all people.”
A strength of the book is Schexnayder’s stories – the stories of the pain of exclusion and fear of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and friends. They ring all too true for me as I reflect on my ministry in this field. The saddest stories are of faith filled young people who in coming to acceptance of their sexuality are rejected, thrown out home and church, alienated by their youth groups and left alone, afraid and lost. As one young man said to me recently when I asked him what the church meant to him, he replied “I don’t think I can live without the Eucharist, but I can’t deny who I have found myself to be either”. Schexnayder’s book opens up a way to say to them “You don’t have to give up either. We have set a place at the table for you too”. Sadly we are saying goodbye to many of these young people, and equally sadly, their parents and friends as well. The logic is if the church can’t accept my son or daughter, then they can’t accept me.
I still meet lesbian and gay catholics working for the church, especially in education, who are very afraid that if their sexual identity becomes known by their employer they will be forced to resign their job. There are recent stories that make this fear quite founded and real.
You can purchase this book online for US$15 by contacting Fr. Jim at rd@calgm or from the website: www.createspace.com/3606590
Published in the Swag later in 2012